What is happiness and what shapes it? Does anyone have a recipe for happiness today, at a time of uncertainty, anxiety and fear? Though they may seem existential questions linked to the innermost dimensions of humanity, happiness is in fact a much more complex dimension that can be expressed on several levels of existence. Happiness is not happenstance or illusion, it is a concrete act, a project that requires commitment, precise choices, passion and responsibility. To paraphrase Rene Magritte, being able to be happy, despite the meaninglessness of our world, is pure art. And art, of course, cannot be improvised.
This topic was discussed on 5 May in the PHYD talk entitled Happiness? It is a project within everyone’s reach.The spotlight is on two welfare and well-being experts: Sergio Sorgi and Francesca Bertè, respectively president and vice-president of eQwa, a social enterprise committed, through studies, activities and reflections, to the promotion of a community welfare whose policies can contribute significantly to reducing economic and social inequalities and, therefore, to improving the living conditions of individuals. In 2020, Egea published their jointly authored book Felicità cercasi. Pratiche personali e collettive (Happiness Wanted. Personal and Community Practices).
There is no better time than now to address the subject of happiness, because, say the two authors:
Especially in times of crisis, we must find the courage to plan for our personal and common future
The first step is to find a common definition of happiness, if only to free it from an exclusively private or emotional dimension that limits its scope of investigation. “What is happiness?” asks Sorgi rhetorically, “a mirage, a sense, a feeling, a moment, an attitude?” We could define happiness, quoting a 1976 study by Campbell, Converse and Rodgers, as the degree of closeness or gap between our ambitions (economic, relational, professional, religious) and who we truly are. In the same vein, happiness is also the potential to hope and aspire to achieve what we desire. So how do we stitch the ideal to the real, the present to the future? Working on the three cornerstones of a far from magical or mysterious formula for creating happy people and communities:
Well-being (and sustainability)
The term ‘well-being’ is now commonly understood to have even less to do with economic indicators alone, such as GDP, and increasingly with a multiplicity of factors covering physical, material, psychological and environmental aspects. There has been a shift in perception for some time now, with less attention on what is produced, and more on consumption, income and the resulting living conditions of people in their families, workplaces and cities. This is embodied in the 12 dimensions of well-being drawn up by the Equitable and Sustainable Well-being (BES) measures of the Italian National Institute of Statistics and the 17 SDGs of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which cover health, education and training, relationships, work and work-life balance, innovation and environmental impact, gender equality and inclusion. How can we be happy if, as individuals, companies and institutions, we fail to pursue the well-being of the community?
Relationships (and trust)
Several studies have shown that happiness is closely linked to the quality of our relationships with others. It is not just a question of friendship or family relations, but also something else that extends to encompass politics, science, culture and ethics. We can take actions that help us build and maintain healthy relationships, learning to forgive or performing daily acts of kindness, but most of all, exercising trust in a non-instinctive way through acts that ask for and also grant trust. Sorgi points out three kinds of trust: personal–values, regulatory–institutionalandlogical–rational, each requiring us to adopt specific behaviours from a spectrum that includes empathy, truth, coherence, responsibility, fulfilment of contracts, competence and also professionalism.
“Nothing can be done without hope and confidence“
US author Helen Adams Keller.
Future (and imagination)
There is no happiness without a future, we learned this very well during the pandemic, crushed in an endless present. “Men and women are engineered to evolve, develop, and adapt to change. We are a complex anticipation machine“, this is how Berté describes this very powerful nexus. We have to make good use of the future, knowing that, to cite a fascinating metaphor of the academic Alberto Felice De Toni, it can come at us like a cat, without any warning. So we have to be ready. “We can, for instance, be flexible, seeking to live and design, even in the present, places, services and products that are resilient, that embrace and embody the concept of change“. The best way to usher in the future is to adopt an imaginative approach, because that is the only way to build possible and desirable scenarios. Imagination is, as Bertè calls it, a sort of “life simulation“, through which we can use the present moment to sketch preferable life alternatives for tomorrow.
At a time of exponential acceleration that hinders our ability to decipher reality properly, we should be , sustainable goals, because where and how we will be tomorrow depends on what we do today.
To watch the event, simply register on the PHYD site.